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Monday, 4 May 1987
Page: 2532


Mr MAHER(8.09) —Tonight we are debating the Customs Tariff Bill 1987, the Customs Tariff (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill 1987 and the Customs Tariff (Installations at Sea) Bill 1987. The Customs Tariff Bill essentially is a rewording of existing Customs legislation, as the second reading speech states, to try to harmonise with other countries in the world. My interest in the Australian Customs Service has been through relatives. A cousin of mine was Collector of Customs in New South Wales for many years-the late Tom Maher. I had an uncle-the late Jim Maher-who, throughout the war and for many years afterwards, was in charge of the prevention and detection section in the Sydney Australian Customs Service Office. When I was a clerk at the High Court of Australia, although he had then retired, he appeared in the Bainbridge-Hawker case-a celebrated prosecution-to give evidence about documents. That was in about 1961. I subsequently qualified in law and worked for what used to be called Deputy Commonwealth Crown Solicitor's Office in Sydney, where I handled many of the Customs prosecutions or advised on prosecutions. In doing so I developed a close working relationship with many Customs officers. Subsequently I went into parliament and, like all members of this House and State members, I had contact with Customs matters. All honourable members know of people who are unfortunate enough to come back from overseas after perhaps visiting relatives in Greece, Italy or Lebanon and who find by chance that something has been put in their bags without their knowledge. Perhaps an aunt had packed some salami, some grape vine cuttings or something else that was contrary to the Customs regulations. When this happens constituents come to their members offices very distressed at having a prosecution against them. They are always clutching a summons. I have also had cases of people who have bought fur coats overseas without knowing they incur heavy duty. They have come back to Australia, only to have their fur coat impounded. All members of parliament come face to face with Customs officers and procedures, mainly at that point of contact.

This legislation results from the work of the Customs Co-operation Council in Brussels. As members of parliament we know the problems of comparing tax systems-comparing Australian taxes with American taxes or West German taxes-and how much more difficult it is to compare Australia's balance of payments with those of other countries because items included in the balance of payments, which is the list of imports and exports, vary from country to country. The aim is to try to standardise reference to imports to Customs items so that something which is given a certain reference in the United States of America has the same reference here. This is a very practical proposal and one for which the Government is legislating tonight. I am pleased that the Opposition is supporting it. In the second reading speech the Minister for Science and the Minister assisting the Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce (Mr Barry Jones) referred to `a new international nomenclature' and its development. He talked about harmonising commodity description and coding systems. The International Convention on the Harmonised Commodity Description and Coding System, to which the Bill gives effect, aims to provide international uniformity in the classification of goods in Customs tariffs to make it easier to collect, analyse and compare world trade statistics, both in imports and exports. It will also provide a common international system of coding, describing and classifying goods for commercial purposes.

Obviously there are some very important aspects of the legislation for Customs officers and for those who are involved in importing and exporting. The proposal has been developed over some years and I am told that already five nations have signed and ratified the convention. Australia was the first nation to sign it, and it is now subject to ratification. Australian officers have had an important hand in developing the whole convention. The convention will not come into effect until 17 nations have signed and ratified it but it is hoped that it will apply from 1 January 1988.

The Minister's second reading speech covered most of the aspects of the Bill on which I wanted to touch. I notice that with the schedules there are explicit details of all the Customs duties on fruit, vegetables, horses and on all sorts of building equipment et cetera. In a nation which, regrettably, is importing more than it is exporting and which depends so much for its way of life on imports, this legislation is of great significance. I wanted to make a couple of other points. This legislation will bring about cost savings and it will mean a less complex, less fragmented tariff, not only for the Government but also for the private sector and all those who are involved in Customs work. If the legislation has the support of the Opposition it is unnecessary to delay the House. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.